October 12, 2004

Tehran: Appeased!

Looks like Iran wouldn't be so turned off by a Kerry-style grand bargain after all:
Iran would welcome a proposal by John Kerry's running mate for a "great bargain" to solve the dispute over Iran's nuclear program, a senior Iranian official said yesterday.

Iran earlier rejected the proposal, saying it would be "irrational" for Tehran to jeopardize what it says is a purely civilian nuclear program by relying on supplies from abroad. In an apparent policy shift, however, Hossein Mousavian, head of the foreign-policy committee at Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said Iran would review the proposal.
The Bush administration, of course, is interested in no such thing. But lest a grand bargain seem like petty appeasement, it's worth noting that any meaningful dialogue with Iran will have to include the United States at some point. Europe's overtures have gotten nowhere, and no one knows whether Russia is trying to stop Iran's nuclear program or usher it along. The "sabotage" option sounds thrilling, but I don't think we should be basing our Iran policy on this sort of thing. At some point, Washington needs to open a dialogue, whether it be through a Kerry-style grand bargain or my preferred approach: incremental engagement. But the current course just isn't working.

A propos, a telling little anecdote: Sometime ago the famous Iranian reactionary newspaper Kayhan did a feature on the American presidential race, starting off by saying that there was no difference between the two candidates, that they were both hoof and horn of the Great Satan, etc. etc. But the actual language used to describe the candidates was quite revealing. Naturally Bush was depicted in the most brutal of terms: as an idiot, a warmonger, the devil himself. When it came to Kerry, though, Kayhan simply noted that he fought in Vietnam, regretted it, and then had a distinguished Senate career. Coming from the reactionary press, this sort of quiet respect was unprecedented. Like I said, it's telling. CFR analyst Ray Takeyh told me the other day that even among many hardline Iranians there's a sense that the country missed a chance in the 1990s to engage the West, and they don't want to "smack another Clinton in the face."

Now that doesn't prove that engagement will succeed -- though I think it will -- but it does show that a Kerry administration will be more likely to open up some sort of dialogue. Especially since the Bush administration appears gridlocked by infighting over its Iran policy, which has led only to paralysis, which by any standard is even worse than "appeasement".
-- Brad Plumer 1:43 AM || ||